In Egypt, how does an anti-cybercrime law be considered repression unlike other countries?
CAIRO – 18 August 2018: On Saturday, President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi ratified an anti-cybrecrime law that allows authorities, through a judge, to order the blocking of websites that "constitute a threat" to the state or publish fake news as well as jail or fine those who run them.
FILE: President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi
The law imposes jail terms of up to five years and fines ranging between EGP 10,000 and EGP 20 million ($560 and $1.1m).
Fake news are news stories that appear to contain factual information, but are actually false.
According to the law, people whose social media accounts have more than 5,000 followers could be placed under supervision.
The law authorizes authorities to suspend or block any personal account which "publishes or broadcasts fake news or anything (information) inciting violating the law, violence or hatred".
The danger of fake news nowadays lies in their ability to spread rapidly over the internet through social media platforms and websites of high traffic.
According to the Guardian, Russia-backed content reached as many as 126 million Americans on Facebook during and after the 2016 presidential election.
Facebook believes 120 fake Russian-backed pages created 80,000 posts that were received by 29 million Americans directly.
Moreover, in Apr. 2018, the Financial Times reported that Brussels is preparing to crack down on social media companies who have been accused of spreading fake news, issuing a stark warning that scandals such as the Facebook data leak threaten to "subvert our democratic systems".
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, appears on stage during a town hall at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, California, U.S., September 27, 2015. REUTERS/Stephen Lam/File Photo
Sir Julian King, European commissioner for security, is demanding a "clear game plan" for how social media companies can operate during sensitive election periods.
Egypt has been attempting to achieve a breakthrough in this field and by implementing a set of procedures.
In March 2018, Egypt’s Public prosecution announced the launch of a new hotline for citizens to gather complaints of “fake” news that is published in traditional media outlets or digital media platforms, which aims to impose a threat to national security.
“A set of mobile telephone numbers are assigned to receive complaints on the instant messaging on WhatsApp application and by SMS; The sent messages should contain all information available on the reported fake news,” according to a statement released by the office of the public prosecutor.
In another protective measure, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Yasser el-Kady announced Egypt’s plan to have its own social media platform, which will be a competitor to Facebook, along with other applications and programs to protect the data and information.
FILE: Minister of Communications and Information Technology Yasser el-Kady
“After the January 25 Revolution, extremist groups have been able to attract the youth with personality disorders through technological means, so we had to control different social media and digital apps and platforms,” Qadi revealed during the “Combat Terrorism” workshop, a two-day workshop held by the Ministry of Justice for judges and prosecutors to raise their technological awareness.
Qadi added, “Some mobile applications offer a big chance for extremists to reveal all user data, his friends’ and family’s as well,” declaring that he does not use “Truecaller” for this reason.
Since the release of Truecaller, rumors of security issues have been hovering around it.
He added that the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology undertook the cybercrimes project in coordination with the Ministry of Justice.
While the government launches initiatives to curb the spread of fake news, prominent figures have directed calls to screen social media sites to protect the interests of society.
Grand Mufti Sheikh Shawki Allam warned that ideas spread on social media need to be screened, as many of which promote fake news, however the society should be able to benefit from the other uses of social media.
Allam said that parents should follow-up their children while surfing social media to protect them from false ideas and offer guidance to the right information, but not to impose some sort of control, in an interview with ON Live satellite channel.
Moreover, a number of Egyptian parliamentarians called on the government to practice censorship on social media in Egypt. The MPs who introduced the idea also called for launching awareness campaigns to make Egyptians aware of Facebook’s dangerous effect on society.
In addition to this, The Egyptian Parliament’s Telecommunications and Information Technology Committee came out on Wednesday with new amendments to the government’s anti-cybercrime law.
The amendments include setting a six-month imprisonment and a fine not less than LE 100,000 ($5,670) and not more than LE 500,000 for anyone found to be deliberately tinkering with an internet connection.
In mid-February, the Cabinet referred a draft anti-cybercrime law to Parliament for discussion, which included posing surveillance on social media and limiting the spread of fake news, particularly news inciting violence.
The long-awaited draft law was sent to Parliament to be discussed, as the law has an indispensable role in dealing with the rumors that are not easily monitored on social media.
First introduced before Parliament in May 2016, the 33-article draft law was proposed to criminalize illegal electronic practices, such as electronic fraud and encouraging terrorist practices; however, activists and rights defenders perceive the penalties stipulated by the law as very harsh and as a restriction of the freedom of expression, according to various news outlets.
The punishments in the draft law range from a month in prison to the death penalty, should, in the latter case, the cybercrime result in the death of someone or be considered a threat to national security. The law also stipulates other penalties, such as blocking sites and canceling their licenses according to court judgments.
The new anti-cybercrime laws and initiatives come in the light of multiple reports that have recently been published by foreign media outlets; Egyptian authorities have accused these outlets of spreading false news and having political motives.
In the last incident, the BBC published a report showed an Egyptian woman named Mona Mahmoud Ahmed, also known as Zubeida’s mother, accusing the police of kidnapping her daughter. In a TV interview conducted by renowned anchor Amr Adib, Zubeida refuted claims about her "forced disappearance."
Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said, during a UN meeting, that foreign media publish fabricated news to achieve political motives.
Foriegn Minister Sameh Shoukry - (Sergei Chirikov / EPA)
The head of the State Information Service (SIS) Diaa Rashwan urged the BBC during the meeting to take all possible administrative procedures to amend the distortion caused by the false report.
Additionally, The New York Times published an article, penned by David Kirkpatrick, titled “Tapes Reveal Egyptian Leaders’ Tacit Acceptance of Jerusalem Move”. The story alleged that a so-called intelligence officer named Ashraf el-Kholi had conversations with four “influential TV hosts” with the aim of promoting the U.S. plan to make Jerusalem the capital of Israel. Shortly after the publication of the story, Egypt’s State Information Service (SIS) released a statement refuting the lies of the American newspaper.
In Singapore for example, Under section 45 of the Telecommunications Act, any person who transmits a message which he knows to be false will have committed an offence. For example, you could be liable for this offence if you spread messages that you know are false on the Internet.
If found guilty of this offence, you can be fined up to $10,000 and/or jailed for up to 3 years. The penalties increase to up to a fine of $50,000 and/or up to 7 years’ jail if the false message relates to the presence of a bomb.
Also, under section 298A of the Penal Code, offenders who post fake news which disrupts the harmony between the racial or religious groups in Singapore can be fined, and/or jailed for up to 3 years. While Section 499 of the Penal Code makes it an offence to publish false information about a person that is intended to harm that person’s reputation. For example, you will likely be committing an offence under this section if you published a false allegation on your blog that a certain person has loose morals.
Other countries also have been counting in legislation to fight the spread of fake news and false information.
France: Article no. 27 of the 1881 Freedom of the Press Law punishes “the dissemination in bad faith, by any means, of false news, falsified documents, or statements attributed to third parties that might disturb the public peace or “will be likely to shake the discipline or the morale of the armies or to hinder the war effort of the Nation.”
Also, Article L97 of France’s electoral code prohibits the dissemination of false information that might influence the behavior of voters and compromise the result of the election while still allowing vigorous free expression.
Taiwan: On June 9, 2018, the Taiwanese Parliament received a proposed law from the ruling Democratic Progressive Party that adds a clause to the Social Order Maintenance Act that would penalize those who spread fake news on the internet with up to three days in jail or a fine of up to $30,000 New Taiwan dollars ($1,000).
If passed, the proposed amendment would extend Article 63 of the Social Order Maintenance Act, which already carries fines and prison terms for anyone found guilty of "spreading rumors in a way that is sufficient to undermine public order and peace."
Germany: In Germany, the Parliament adopted a law in June 2017 that stipulates fines of up to 50 million Euros ($58 million) to be imposed on posting hate speech, child pornography, terror-related items and false information on social media.
Malaysia: Moreover, the Malaysian parliament in April 2018 approved a law punishing the propagation of partially or totally false information with prison sentences of up to six years and fines of $130,000.
Kenya: In May 2018, a cyber-crimes act was signed into the laws of Kenya; the new laws criminalize online spreading of fake news or “false, misleading or fictitious data.”
Brazil: Ten Brazilian political parties signed an agreement in June with the election authority to fight the dissemination of false information; there are around 10 to 15 draft laws related to the spreading of false information and fake news that are currently being considered by the Brazilian Parliament.
Aljazeera and several Qatari news websites, such as Al-Arab and Al-Watan, have also been blocked in Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, in addition to the Egyptian pro-Muslim Brotherhood website Rassd. The action from the Gulf states come after a statement that attacked them was attributed to Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.
A governmental report obtained by Egypt Today revealed the measures taken by countries around the world regarding the internet to protect national security. The report warned that the vast majority of hacks happened due to using IP addresses given to users by foreign websites.
A high-profile security source told Egypt Today that the blocked websites incite violence, extremism, and terrorism. He emphasized that they were the first websites to run stories about terrorist attacks in Egypt, adding that the managers of these websites belong to radical ideologies or are implementing foreign agendas to instigate instability, and receive massive support from several entities in return.
The Egyptian state has grown “impatient” with these website and the news they run to incite hatred between Muslims and Christians, encourage the youth to be recruited by terrorist groups, and perpetuate despair and frustration in the society, the source said, adding that the measure is lawful.
The world deals with mass media as an inherent pillar of national security, and Egypt is going through a “real war” against terrorism not just on the security and military levels, but also intellectually, culturally and media wise.
The report said it is perfectly legal to block websites without infringing on personal lives in order to prevent terrorism and prejudice to “traditions and principles.”
In April, Turkey blocked Wikipedia because it links Ankara to terrorism, citing a law that bans access to obscene website or online venues that pose a threat to national security. The country blocked Facebook, Youtube and Whatsapp in the aftermath of the botched coup of 2016, the report was keen to mention.
Saudi Arabia has blocked over 600,000 pornographic website in the past two years.
And UAE previously blocked Whatsapp and Viber, but most importantly, it jails and fines those who change their IPs to access banned websites.
The report happily mentioned Egypt is still not one in the list of the top 10 internet censors; rather, the list includes Tunisia, whose internet service providers must report the IP addresses and personal information of all bloggers to the government. Hence, all traffic goes through a central network and the government can filter all content uploaded and monitor emails.
Although other countries do not face the scale of challenges faced in Egypt, they have decided to block websites for various reasons, such as China, Syria, Iran, Ethiopia, Uzbekistan, Cuba, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Pakistan, according to the report.
Reasons vary from terrorism, prostitution, illegal immigration, and money laundry.
The EU decided to monitor websites to counter-terrorism and detect websites that promote systematic violence, and it “admitted” after the Paris attacks that it is necessary to protect the borders of the EU by further control over the internet, and some websites used to recruit European youth to fight in Syria have been blocked, the report said.
In March 2015, France removed certain websites from the search results without judicial supervision, including content abusive to children and website that incite terrorism or condone it, the report added.
It also cited that the U.K. spies legally in a program that has cost millions of dollars from 2009 and stores online activities of users.
Germany blocked a rightist websites for publishing content that promoted hatred against Jews and Muslims and the LGBT community.
The report mentioned U.S. intelligence-developed Xkeyscore program, revealed by Edward Snowden, and emphasized it tracked what an internet user does on social media, the browsing history and worked Linux server Red Hat and also on Apache and saved data on MySQL.
It quoted Pentagon spokesman Lt. Col. Damien Pickart in 2013 that any website that would “post information the department deems classified” will have that content “filtered,” hence will be “inaccessible from Department of Defense networks so long as it remains classified.”
Iran blocked Facebook and Twitter in 2009 following protests during the presidential elections, and it blocked Instagram in 2013.
In 2012, Pakistan blocked Youtube because it refused to remove an anti-Islam video, and Twitter has been blocked for similar reasons several times, but both Twitter and Facebook have accepted demands by the Pakistani government.
Vietnam has unblocked Facebook but banned sharing anti-government stories or private information, while Eritrea blocks Youtube and closely monitors the internet.
The report continued to cite internet censorship in Thailand, Tajikistan, North Korea and Bangladesh.